My new novel is called Identity Theft. When a bored young man working in a rock star’s office is put in charge of the celebrity’s social media, he decides to flirt with a fan in the guise of his boss. He sets of a chain of events he cannot control.
This is the final excerpt from the book– the chapters which introduce the three main characters. I hope that you will enjoy them and consider buying the book. I plan to independently publish Identity Theft and I am taking advance orders to fund its creation. (More on this at the end.)
Ollie was in a good mood when his day began. It was his first free day in three weeks of touring, and he did not have to pack and check out of the hotel for another couple of days. This was the height of luxury. He was dressed in a pair of navy blue sweat pants– he’d slept in them– and a new t-shirt he had stolen out of the merch. The shirts cost about $1.20 each to make in Bangladesh, and they sold them for $30. It was a racket, but it was also the main thing that kept the tours profitable. The design featured a cartoon version of Ollie in his Blast persona. It was the only clean shirt he could find. He looked nothing like his alter ego at the moment, his face hidden a bit behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. He wore contacts on stage. It had been a while since he’d colored his shoulder-length red hair, so the roots were coming in grey. (Hats and bandanas disguised this when he performed.)
The television was on: a program about some guys in Texas who restore junk cars to their former glory and try to flip them to make a profit. Ollie glanced at it from time to time as he pulled stale garments out of his suitcase and sorted them into piles by color on the bed. No washing underwear in the sink today! This hotel had a guest laundry!
Once all of the clothes were stacked up, he grabbed a couple of plastic bags from a side pocket in his bag. He always kept a few plastic bags. You never knew when you were going to need them. They can serve as trash bags when those tiny hotel rubbish bins get full, you can use them to wrap up toiletries that leak and, of course, you can tote your laundry. When the clothes were bagged up, he threw a couple laundry detergent cubes into the bag with the darks. The detergent cubes were a great invention. Not only couldn’t they leak during travel, you could move them around in the suitcase to help make things smell a bit more fresh. He also traveled with a small spray bottle with a mixture of water and vodka inside. The alcohol mixture could be sprayed on to garments if they got a bit pungent. Worked wonders. He kept a couple of those round balls designed to deodorize gym shoes in there for extra assistance in the olfactory department. If the rock n’ roll thing didn’t work out, he figured he could always write a book called “How Not to Stink When You’re on the Road.”
Ollie picked up the room key. He took a $5 bill from his wallet, which was laying next to his cell phone on the night stand. He tucked the money into one of the plastic bags. Then he picked up the laundry and was about to head down to the front desk for change when a tinny version of The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” started to play. When he had chosen that as his ring tone it seemed clever and ironic. Since then it had become increasingly depressing. He made a mental note to download a new one when he had the chance.
He was tempted to not even look at the phone. There is a level of fatigue that kicks in after a month on the road. You move from place to place, event to event like a wind up toy. The momentum propels you. The most likely phone candidates were the office, one of his lawyers or his soon-to-be ex-wife. Any of them would be a drain of his energy. Only one would take his refusal to answer the phone as a personal affront and further evidence of his bad nature. He stopped and glanced at the small screen. It was her.
“Where are you?”
“Where am I? Let me think. Um, Phoenix. Yeah, Phoenix.”
“What’s the weather like?”
“Hot, I imagine. It’s air-conditioned inside.”
“So I have the date for Emma’s choir concert.”
Ollie went to the desk and flipped open the screen of his laptop. Typing with one hand, he brought up his calendar program. “Go on,” he said.
“I’m in Cleveland.”
“Of course you are.”
Ollie rubbed his forehead. Were they really going to have this argument again? This same argument?
“It’s my job. I have to make a living,” he said.
“I know it is. Don’t use that tone.” She let out a heavy sigh.
“Don’t use that sigh.” There was a long pause. Ollie waited for Mandy to speak, but she said nothing.
“I don’t feel good about missing it,” he said. “It’s hard on me already.”
“Look, I know I’m wrong. OK?” she said. Her voice was still angry. It was always angry. “I know that it’s not your fault and I don’t have a right to get mad at you for the situation. I just… It’s frustrating. She’s been working on the solo… I’ll make a video and send it to you. OK? It’s fine. We’re used to it.”
Ollie could never figure out what she wanted from him. She was the one who’d wanted out, who said she didn’t love him any more. She told him to pack his things and changed the locks. She split the bank account. She hired a lawyer. He had begged her, cried. He would be willing to grovel even now if she hadn’t made it abundantly clear that there was no use. “I don’t want a life with you. Not any more.” Now half her calls were about dividing up property and the other half were to complain that he was not involved enough. She wanted him to feel guilty for not being in the home she’d thrown him out of. It made his head spin.
“Why do you want to make me feel worse than I do?”
“I don’t want to make you feel anything.” There was that sigh again.
“Can I talk to her? Is she there?”
“She’s at school. It’s Wednesday.”
“Right. Well, I have a day off.”
“I’ll have her call you tonight then. Around eight?”
“She misses you.”
“I miss her too. ”
“Oh listen,” Mandy said. “When you talk to her, she’s going to try to steer the conversation to a car.”
“She’s had her driver’s license for three months. She’s angling for a car?”
“I know she has you wrapped around her finger. She’ll use the guilt trip.”
“I wonder where she gets that from.” There was a silence. “Sorry,” Ollie said. “What were you saying?”
“I told her if she wants a car she has to get a job and work for it. So I need you to back me up on that.”
“No white knight, hero racing in.”
“We’re on the same team on this one,” he said.
“Well, OK, then,” Mandy said.
“Go out and see something,” she said. “You have a day off. Don’t just sit around the hotel.”
“I’m not,” he said. “I’m doing laundry.”
“Good for you,” she said. “So I’ll have her call later.”
He hung up the phone and put it back on the end table, then dropped down on the bed next to his laundry. (“Hanging up he phone” is a language fossil, from the days when telephones hung on walls.) After the call, not even the prospect of clean underwear was enough to lift his spirits.
Ollie had met Amanda Wheeler in December 1980. He was then a 20 year-old art student by day and a struggling musician by night. The band he’d formed with his friend Pete had a regular Tuesday and Thursday gig at the club around the corner. A few friends and admirers could be counted on to show up, but the band had not recorded anything or played anywhere but London.
Even then, when Ollie got on stage he had a beauty and charisma that drew women to him. Once he stepped off the stage, though, he could be counted on not to notice their advances. Ollie was what they call soft-spoken. Back then, before he was famous, people more often used expressions like “socially awkward” and “painfully shy.”
He remembered the exact date when he met Mandy because he had just heard the news that his idol, John Lennon, had been murdered by an obsessed fan. He was walking down the street in a daze, trying to process the news and he nearly tripped over the legs of a tall girl who was sitting on the pavement. Her hair was bleached almost white. She wore a multi-layered, mutli-colored skirt paired with torn fishnet stockings, and she was sobbing.
“John Lennon is dead,” she said, revealing an American accent. “They killed him.”
“They” was a funny word. One man had shot John Lennon. Who were they? The Americans? Society? The cruel world? All the people who didn’t share the dream, who didn’t imagine?
Ollie said nothing. He sat down beside her, and let her cry on his shoulder. When she had cried herself out, she looked up at him with eye liner streaming down her face. (He would later try to copy that look for his stage makeup.) “I’m Mandy,” she said.
They spent the rest of the day together. It was the first time that Ollie felt completely at ease with a woman he had just met. The conversation flowed without effort. It was as though they had known each other for years. He didn’t want the day to end so he invited her to the club to watch him play. She said she could tell he was going to be a huge star one day. They spent the night together, and the next, and the next.
Mandy was from Connecticut. She had come to London to study fashion, but not at a university. She was from the kind of family that sends its kids off on an all-expense-paid adventure for a year between high school and college. So she had the leisure to scope out the underground music scene and sketch what the punks were wearing.
Ollie couldn’t believe his luck that a girl like that could ever take an interest in someone from his background. He was born Oliver Alfred Thomas in South East London the bastard son of a barmaid and a construction worker. If his 19-year-old mother had had her way, Alfred would have been his first name. It was his maternal grandfather’s name. There were so many Alfreds back in Oscar Wilde’s day that after that generation no one wanted to saddle their sons with such a commonplace name any more. That’s how the trendy becomes the quaint and old-fashioned. Ollie’s father had not been interested in sticking around to be a dad, but he did put his foot down on naming his son Alf. It was his only family legacy. Ollie was raised to expect only one thing from life, that he would have to struggle and work hard.
Of his mother’s four husbands, Ollie had liked the third best. He was a good-natured, alcoholic drifter who taught the boy to play guitar before disappearing into the night. When Ollie played the guitar he found a home, a space where he knew he belonged. At first he could not command his fingers to hold down the strings for the bar chords, but there was no question in his mind that he would master it. He had to. He was proud of the calluses that formed on his finger tips. He listened to The Beatles and tried to work out the chord progressions. This filled him with both elation and despair. The idea that he might have the power to do something as magical as making music propelled him. This was followed by the grief of knowing that Strawberry Fields and Revolution had already been written and that there was no way he could create anything that could possibly match them.
Mandy was the first girl he ever met who seemed to understand how much his calling meant to him. Ollie was immediately attracted to Mandy’s American optimism and confidence. She exuded the belief that anything you dream is possible. She was absolutely convinced that Ollie would be a star and that together they would never be ordinary. Mandy came up with designs for stage costumes and dressed up the musicians like her own personal fashion dolls. She created posters and flyers. She started up conversations with kids at the club and talked up the band. She had an infectious energy and her enthusiasm always rubbed off. She also took over the bookings and negotiated the band’s pay, which was a great relief to Ollie. He was useless at it. He loved playing so much that he was afraid the club owners might not let him go on stage. His negotiations tended to go like this:
Club owner: How much do you guys charge? I normally pay 200.
Ollie: We’d like to get 100.
Club owner: OK, 100.
Ollie: But we could do it for fifty.
Club owner: Fifty.
Ollie: We really just need drinks for the band.
Club owner: So if I give you a tab…
Ollie: Just a beer, you know. That would be fine. A beer for each of us. We’d do it for free. We love to play.
Club owner: See you on Thursday, then.
It was Mandy who invented the persona of “Blast.”
“You need to create a character,” she said. “Like Bowie. You have a mask. You can be bigger than life that way.”
She was right. Taking on the Blast persona freed him. Everything that he kept bottled up inside in his daily life exploded through Blast. On stage he channeled primitive energies, rebelliousness, joy, sex. It was captivating.
At first Pete balked at Mandy’s interference, but he shut up when he saw the results. They were playing almost every night and the audiences were getting larger and larger. Pete started painting his face following Mandy’s suggestions and adopted the name “Wing Dog.” Unlike Ollie, Pete carried these affectations off the stage.
In the early days, Ollie and Mandy would stay up half the night drinking wine and talking. They had great sex, and he loved her body, but the real draw was her mind and her imagination.
His model of the perfect couple was John and Yoko. Ollie didn’t care what anyone else said about it– Yoko Ono was crazy hot with her short skirts and her soft-spoken Japanese mannerisms. She covered her mouth when she laughed and yet she was ballsy as hell. She was the fire that drove the engine and the biggest rock star in the world went along for the ride. They made their own rules. Yoko sent John out to California for a “lost weekend” when he got restless, and she even chose a woman to be his mistress. That’s when they weren’t having bag-ins for peace. They were truly in love.
John and Yoko may have been as fucked up as anyone else, but if they were, Ollie didn’t want to know it. He loved the photos of the two of them holding hands in central park, making music together in the Dakota, the Two Virgins cover. That was enough for him. It told him that a different kind of love was possible. If it had all been for show, he hoped no one would ever tell him. He and Mandy were going to be John and Yoko baking bread and making art.
When they were young, Mandy and Ollie talked a lot about this and how they would not be constrained by a life of prescribed domesticity and hypocritical rules about monogamy. “When we’re in our sixties, we’ll get matching tattoos!” The conversations were exiting and passionate and he believed them.
Somewhere along the line, Mandy stopped wanting a life of artistic self-expression and sexual freedom. She stopped encouraging him to be true to his artistic vision, and started pushing him towards uninspiring sell-outs that would bring in fast money. She did a 180 on monogamy an started to grill him about his dalliances with other women. All of the conventional things they were never going to be, suddenly she embraced them and called him immature for not embracing them too. Was she right that dreaming was the prerogative of the young and that conformity was the mark of a grown up? Was that wisdom or defeat? That was the worst part of losing her. He wasn’t sure any more.
She was the one who had changed, the one who strayed from the promises they made to each other. And yet when it came time to call the lawyers and file the papers, they would be judged by the social rules they had both agreed to ignore. In the eyes of the world, he was the bad guy. He was a child. He played around.
The irony was, for all of her talk about his sex and rock n’ roll lifestyle, Mandy was always more sexual than he was. On the road he had access to groupies when he wanted, and he did from time to time, but not nearly as much as people imagine. (Touring wears you out.) It was fun. He liked it. Who doesn’t respond to the joy of discovering a new person, getting to that moment of mutual consent for the first time? As far as he was concerned, it had nothing to do with his marriage and what he had thought was an enduring emotional commitment. Sex with the strangers and with his wife were entirely different things. If they were honest with themselves, he was quite convinced that most people would want to have both if they could– the hunt and the nest.
More often than not, he would have been happy just to lie in bed with Mandy and talk for hours. Invariably though she would stop the conversation because she wanted sex. For her, sex was a thermometer of some kind. It was the proof that he desired her and loved her. She seemed to need the affirmation more than the pleasure. He didn’t need sex to prove they were lovers. She was the one obsessed with it.
Ollie could not think about all of this any more. He took off his glasses and set them on the end table. He rolled onto his side and pushed the plastic laundry bags away. He felt heavy. He could not imagine anything, besides lying in bed, which would not be too much effort. He closed his eyes.
He opened them again when he heard the chorus of Eleanor Rigby. He fumbled for his smart phone, and when he finally got his hand on it and looked at the screen he saw that it was 4:30 PM. He’d slept through the whole day.
It was a Los Angeles number, one of his office extensions.
“Hey, it’s Ethan,” said the voice on the other end of the line. (“On the line” is a language fossil, from the days when telephonic communication was conducted over cables.)
“Hi,” Ollie said, rubbing his eyes.
“So um, Eric Hollander called,” Ethan said. Hollander was Ollie’s divorce lawyer. “He says the papers are ready and he wants to know where to send them so you’ll get it.”
Ollie let the finality of the word “papers” sink in.
“Hello?” said Ethan.
“Yeah, sorry. I just woke up.”
“Sleep in until the afternoon, that’s the rock star life, eh?” Ethan said. Ollie did not laugh, so Ethan pressed on, sounding a little embarrassed. “Do you want me to have him overnight it to you at the hotel there or should we do the theater?”
“No the… here, the hotel. That’s fine. We got, what? Two days here?”
Ethan went on to discuss more business, television interviews or some such, but Ollie didn’t really hear any of it. When the call was finished, he turned off the television and went to take a shower. As the hot water rolled over him he tried to bring back the joy he’d felt that morning at having nothing but laundry on his to do list. It didn’t work, but the shower made him feel a bit more human.
After the shower, he sat down at the desk and checked his e-mail. He deleted the spam and left the business-related messages unopened. There was nothing left. So he logged into the official Blast web page. They’d mostly set it up as a way to sell merch. Of course, in order to get fans to check in regularly and see if there was a new t-shirt on sale, he needed to provide “content.” Generally this consisted of cheery posts about what city he was in and how great the audience was there. He used an ap that allowed him to update the Blast web page, the Blast Facebook page and Twitter at the same time.
“I’m in Phoenix,” he typed into the status bar. Then he sat staring at the screen trying to figure out what to say about it. “It’s the desert,” he thought. “Everything is dead here.”
He deleted the status and clicked over to the Blast Facebook page to see what fans were posting. He scrolled down the page glancing at the breathless praise.
“Blast’s show in Albuquerque rocked!”
“It did not,” he said to the screen. He had been a zombie, dazed, absent, off his game. Albuquerque had been a nightmare. Being praised for a mediocre performance was depressing. Could they not tell the difference? Did they think that was the best he could do?
He clicked back to the official web page and navigated to the fan forums. He wanted to see if any of the people at that show had been more discerning. The threads were sorted with the most active discussion at the top. He expected a thread about Albuquerque, his last gig, to be up there. Instead, the topic of the day was Blast’s divorce. There were messages about the beauty of his ass, how he still “had it” at his advanced age, and massive speculation about which fan had the best shot with him now that he was going to be single.
He closed the web browser and fired off an e-mail message to Ethan.
“I need you to take over the social media for a while. Too much going on here.” He included a list of the necessary passwords.
“Right, my laundry,” he said out loud to nobody.
I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Identity Theft by Laura Lee. Would you like to read more? Please visit Pubslush and place an order. The funding levels I have chosen correspond to the cover price of the book, so you will not only get an autographed book at the regular cover price, your order now will allow the book to be produced to professional quality. You will make its production possible. I am pleased to say that as of today the project is 25% funded, but it has a long way to go. Pubslush is an all or nothing crowdfunding platform, so if the campaign fails to reach its goal I will not receive any funding. You will not need to make a payment unless the campaign is successful. It is set to wrap up in 14 days.